WEEHAWKEN, N.J. -- Women need to work together to help each other thrive in the workplace, one of food retailing's only female chief executive officers told the audience at an industry dinner here last month.
Eileen Scott, CEO, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., acknowledged that both men and women can serve as mentors to women who are seeking to advance in their careers, but women also need other women to turn to for support.
"I will tell you that largely I went through my experiences alone, because as a woman I couldn't get every question answered or feeling interpreted by my male colleagues," Scott told about 270 attendees at the New York Metro Network of Executive Women event. "I couldn't get them to understand issues like a woman, because plain and simply, there are inherent differences between men and women."
Although she praised the male supervisors she had at Pathmark as being "excellent teachers, counselors and coaches," Scott said she turned to her sisters -- she has five of them, along with four brothers -- and her female friends outside the office for support in some of the struggles she had "as a woman executive in the business world."
She suggested that women form a network within their businesses like the one Pathmark has where women can meet to learn more about their company and to help each other advance in their careers.
Citing a book called "She Wins, You Win," by Gail Evans, the first female executive vice president at CNN, Scott said women in business generally do not work together to support each other as well as men do.
"Her rule is every woman must always play on the women's team," Scott told the mostly female audience. "Why? Because every time a woman succeeds in business, your chances of succeeding increase, and every time a woman fails, your chances of failure increase.
"We act as though we are in the minority at work, which simply is not true. We act as though it simply doesn't feel right to band together. But by banding together, we create power, and by creating power, we will be more likely to succeed.
"The more we help each other, the more we help each other toward success. Even more, when we don't help each other, we all take a step backward."
Scott argued that women gain strength through their relationships and interactions with others, and they need to leverage that principle in the workplace.
"Instead of working together, we've been acting as though each of us is on a separate team in -- frankly -- a very macho way.
"Men know and practice the word team in a much better way than women do."
That's an apparent contradiction, she said, because as the more relationship-oriented gender, women should be more ideally suited to act as a team.
"I've often wondered, and I'm sure some of you have too, why isn't there an Old Girl Network?" she asked.
Another thing Scott said she has learned is that "women need to start having fun" in the workplace.
"A job is a job is a job," she said. "Women need to stop ascribing a high significance to every single thing that happens at work. It is OK to tell a joke or laugh at someone else's between the hours of 9 and 5. Having a network of women you trust and who can make you laugh is a powerful way to ease work that feels like a burden. The best networks are those that make you laugh out loud."
She said women shouldn't worry about how it makes the men around them feel if women begin "banding together" in the office.
"The question is, will men still be happy if they think we women are banding together?" she said. "The answer is simple. This is not about men. This is about our relationship with other women. Women networking with each other and ultimately helping each other to achieve success isn't threatening. It is good business, and it will further ensure the growth and prosperity of any organization and business."
Scott began her career at Pathmark as a cashier and bookkeeper at a store in Clifton, N.J., while attending William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She worked in a succession of store management positions before becoming executive vice president of merchandising and distribution in 1997. She was named executive vice president of store operations in 2001 and chief executive officer in 2002.
"It's no secret that the food industry doesn't have as many female executives as it should," she said, adding that women who don't have any females available in the workplace should choose men as mentors.
"I must tell you that all but a few of my mentors throughout the years have been men, and fine men at that," she said.
Having male mentors has been a boon to Scott in her career at Pathmark, she said, as they have helped her understand a network that was largely male-dominated.
Scott said her family life also provided her with a solid base for her career. Her father, she said, encouraged all 10 children to "maximize their abilities," although he thought it was more important for the boys in the family to attend college.
With no money at all for any of the children in her family to go to college, however, Scott said her mother spent hours applying for financial aid, an effort that Scott and her siblings were able to capitalize on. Among them are doctors, lawyers and several with multiple degrees.
"My mom and dad stepped up and encouraged us as only great mentors can do," she said.
Scott concluded by asserting that women can extend the power they achieve at work into other areas of importance to them in society, such as education and health care.